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Tk’emlups preparing for archaeological work at B.C. residential school site where remains found

The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still collecting records
The former Kamloops Indian Residential School on the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc reserve. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops This Week)

Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative, Kamloops This Week

A final report on the preliminary findings of what are believed to be unmarked graves of 215 children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School has been delayed, but is expected to be completed by the end of June.

That was the word from Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, which has also laid out some of the work it is doing to follow up on the discovery that has drawn worldwide interest and outcry.

The band is in the process of gathering archaeologist experts while drawing up budget estimates for archaeological work and a project plan timeline, according to a press release on the band’s website. The finance department plans to submit to government a comprehensive budget for resources to support the scope of the project.

A legal team has also been hired to support the band and more staff are being sought to assist with the overall project.

Tk’emlúps is also researching what the Kamloops Indian Residential School originally looked like and is in the early stages of having the area where the remains were found, south of the building, designated a heritage site, the release said.

Meanwhile, the band’s language and culture department met with residential school survivors and 13 family representatives to discuss the findings and what comes next, and the band’s museum is also conducting additional research on records associated with the residential school.

As for the report on the preliminary findings, Casimir initially said it would be ready by mid-June, but in a press conference last week, she said the document is “taking a little bit longer than it should.” She cited “a number of steps and due diligence that’s needed,” but added that the report is still expected to be complete by the end of the month.

When asked by KTW, the Tk’emlups band would not give an overview of what the report will entail, but spokesperson Racelle Kooy said advance notice will be given to media when those details are ready to be disclosed.

The band announced last month it had found the remains of children who were students of the school, some as young as three years old, with the help of a ground-penetrating radar survey (GPR) on the Victoria Day long weekend.

The technology uses radio signals to detect changes in the soil and can be applied to look for the presence of graves, but does not work like an X-ray.

The band isn’t yet addressing questions related to the technical aspects of the use of the ground-penetrating radar, with Casimir having indicated that would be shared in the report.

The 215 graves are, to the band’s knowledge, undocumented deaths for which it is still in the process of collecting records.

READ MORE: Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

According to Kooy, Tk’emlups has involved experts in its records-gathering efforts, but details on that front are premature.

“Certainly, we need those records and there’s a lot of information floating out there,” Kooy said.

Asked if all records have been turned over by the Archdiocese of Vancouver — under which the Kamloops Indian Residential School was administered from the 1890s to 1969 — as stated previously by Archbishop Michael Miller, Kooy said there are “other records” and “missing pieces” and the band is “not there yet” in regards to its record collecting.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — the religious order that ran the Kamloops Indian Residential School — has said the records from the Kamloops Indian Residential School are with the Royal BC Museum, but added there may be records elsewhere across Canada. Father Ken Thorsen of the group earlier told KTW the Catholic order is looking into where those records may be.

Officially, there were 51 recorded deaths at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the University of Manitoba. Its database notes deaths from between 1900 and 1971.

Impact came as a shock: Casimir

Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir said she did not realize the worldwide impact the discovery of the 215 unmarked grave sites would generate.

“I had no idea,” she said.

Casimir said she also did not realize the effect it would have on other Indigenous people.

“Knowing the long history of residential schools within our First Nations across Canada, there’s a lot of shared hurt and trauma and triggers that have been opened and that is something I didn’t anticipate, but know that it’s something that we all have to face and all have to acknowledge moving forward,” she said.

Casimir said the band is appreciative of the worldwide support it has received in the wake of the discovery.

“As First Nations people, we know our history and we bear the repercussions of that history, such as the Indian residential school system,” she said.

Casimir said non-Indigenous people need to acknowledge the history and needed steps for healing as they are now getting a clear picture of the impact of residential schools brought to light by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Many visitors have visited the former school, with ceremonies held at the brick building and at the nearby Powwow Grounds. prompting a call from Tk’emlups and the First Nations Health Authority for adherence to COVID-19 pandemic protocols.

A memorial to survivors outside the former school building has continued to grow, with various tributes laid at its base in the weeks since the band’s revelation.

As people reach out to lend their support, the Tk’emlups band has also been accepting donations.

Those funds, according to the band, will be used for the further scientific and archival investigation of the 215 site. Those donations will also be used to memorialize the children in collaboration with Tk’emlups members, the home communities and the families of the children.

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